I remember growing up as a boy in the Central Valley and looking forward to the county fair every summer. Where else could a boy be given a free pass to over-indulge on corn dogs and funnel cakes without a disapproving glance from mom?
And while I now leave the corn dog and funnel cake tradition to my four children, one of my favorite traditions is to visit the livestock exhibit, where area high school FFA students proudly showcase their animals.
It continues to amaze me how dedicated and committed these students are in raising and caring for their animals, and it amazes me even more that many of these students receive these educational opportunities from their high school agricultural departments and the dedicated teachers that teach well beyond the normal school day.
I was also very impressed to learn that this year's Merced County Fair Junior Livestock Auction generated a whopping $578,642 with the sale of 565 animals. This, no doubt, drives home the fact that ag-ed education is more than just education, as our economy greatly benefits on a variety of different levels, too.
Agriculture is not only the economic backbone of our state, but also a driving force in innovation and technology. No one is more aware of this than the thousands of teachers and students across the state of California.
This is why I fought so hard to ensure the millions of dollars of ag-education funding were not slashed from this year's budget. The elimination of the $4.1 million Agricultural Education Incentive Grant, as was initially proposed in the budget process, would have had devastating effects on California's future.
I wanted to make sure the 74,000 agriculture students enrolled in more than 300 ag-ed programs across California were rewarded for their commitment to this business and science, not punished. To circumvent the budget process, I coauthored AB 2033 which would have guaranteed funding for the program through legislation.
Although my voice, along with fellow lawmakers voices, rang loud and clear in support of retaining grant program funding throughout the budget process, it was your voices that ultimately made the difference.
I received letters from concerned teachers, students and parents. I participated in rallies at the Capitol, attended by thousands of dedicated ag-ed supporters. I had the honor of touring many high school ag-ed departments across my district. There, I saw first-hand how agriculture teachers and students continue to shape the future of the industry and that they might not have this great opportunity if funding was eliminated.
Your voices were heard, and fortunately, the funding was restored in the final budget. I am extremely pleased Governor Brown recognized your dedication, as well, keeping this very important program in place.
Agriculture is and always will be a huge part of our fabric and heritage, and the Agriculture Incentive Grant program serves to preserve and protect a large part of California and history - our heritage and history.
Economically, it drives our region financial and creates much needed jobs. Socially, it provides millions across the globe essential food and nourishment. Technologically, agriculture could be called the "New Frontier," creating innovative and efficient ways to continue to feed our ever-growing population.
In short, agriculture is essential to life on so many levels, and it is my privilege to work side by side with all of you to ensure this important funding continues to educate our present ag-ed students, as well as future generations.